Emir Sulijagic’s extraordinary memoir of the siege, fall and massacre of Srebrenica is the first book I have finsihed this year.
I heard Emir speaking on the radio in May 2012 and was immediately entranced by his tone, his prose and his erudition, so I sought out his memoir. It is not a linear account, and it does not offer any background information aside from an afterowrd by Ed Vulliamy. Instead it is a series of vignettes each of which capture an aspect of Emir’s experience in the years between 1992 and 1995.
Despite there being no dates or external references, you can feel Emir aging, faster than the years, as the chapters pass. The other essential emotion he captures is disbelief. The Bosnian Muslims were, unsurprisingly, dumbfounded that their neighbours who they had previously drunk coffee with, shared child care with, and celebrated with, were suddenly ‘cleansing’ their villages of the Muslim population.
It is shocking to read this small insight into life in the besieged city, and to try and remember what I was doing at any point during the years in question. In fact, the period coincides almost exactly with my undergraduate degree. So while I was learning, growing up and making my way in the world, Emir, 3 years younger than I, was fighting for survival in a city of refuge.
The guilt Emir obviously feels that people he knew, well and not so well, did not survive, is heartbreaking. That he is now working on a memorial project to fill the factory where so many were gunned down is testament to his character.
A thought provoking, inspiring and memorable start to my year in reading.